Nutrition News Got You Confused? Get the Facts

Don't Buy Into These Diet Myths

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Nearly every day, a new scientific study about diet and health makes headlines. Keeping up with the latest nutrition research -- not to mention the coffee-break chatter -- can be daunting. You may be tempted to throw up your hands in frustration and go back to your old eating habits. But don't let nutrition confusion keep you from your goals.

And if a solution for life is what you are searching for, you can trust WebMD's Weight Loss Clinic. Our program is about smart eating, regular physical activity, and making small changes in your lifestyle behavior to help you reach your healthy weight goals. We don't believe in diets or deprivation; instead we help you fit your favorite foods into your eating plan. Throughout the program, our expert staff is there to support you along the way with informative news and education, motivation, and to answer your questions or help you find a fitness program that is fun.

Myth: Carbohydrates make you fat.
Fact: Carbs have gotten a bad reputation ever since Dr. Atkins told his followers to avoid them. Back in the '80s, everyone was fueling up on pasta and potatoes, but today there is an unrealistic fear of anything white and starchy. The fact is that carbohydrates don't cause weight gain any more than proteins or fats do. If you eat too many calories -- which can only come from carbs, protein, fat, or alcohol -- you gain weight. What is true is that refined carbs (like sugar and white flour) tend to be easily digested, leaving you hungry again soon after you eat them. Our advice at the WLC is to choose smart carbs such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Myth: Dairy foods contain too many calories and once you have stopped growing, who needs dairy products anyway?
Fact: You do need more bone building minerals during active growth; however, adults continue to need these nutrients throughout the life cycle. Dairy products are the best source of calcium in the diet. Fat-free and low-fat selections are recommended because they are the lowest in calories, cholesterol, and saturated fat. Recent research has shown that consuming three servings per day of fat-free or low-fat dairy products along with a low-calorie diet leads to enhanced weight loss. The calcium and protein in the dairy products help burn fat while building and maintaining muscle. Eat three servings per day, keep your bones and teeth strong while losing weight -- it's a no-brainer and one of our strategies at the weight loss clinic.

Myth: Eating eggs regularly leads to high cholesterol levels.
Fact: The egg has been redeemed. The American Heart Association's dietary guidelines no longer make any recommendation about how many egg yolks you should eat in a week. Eggs are an excellent source of protein, B vitamins, iron, and other minerals --- all essential to health. And an egg's fat content, only 5 grams, makes it a perfect breakfast food; it will keep you full and satisfied until lunch. Eggs are versatile, inexpensive, and can be eaten for any meal of the day. If you are a healthy adult, enjoy an egg a day without concern.

Myth: Artificial sweeteners curb your sweet tooth.
Fact: Members of the WLC enjoy a wide variety of foods, including a moderate amount of those containing artificial sweeteners, classified as 'free foods.' The real benefit of using artificial sweeteners is that you get the sweet taste without any extra calories. Unfortunately, eating and drinking sweets only perpetuates the innate desire for sweetness. To curb your sweet tooth, try to satisfy your urge with the natural sweetness of fruit; freezing fruit like grapes is especially satisfying, or try sprinkling flavorful spices such as cinnamon on yogurt for a twist on sweetness. The goal is to slowly reduce your desire for sugary sweets instead of simply substituting with artificial sweeteners.

Myth: If you eat most of your calories late at night, you'll gain weight.
Fact: The old saying, 'Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper" was based on the idea that since you're more active throughout the day, you should eat more when you're most likely to burn it off. But the bottom line for managing weight is the total number of calories you consume during the day. Regardless of when you eat them, if you take in more than you burn, you will gain weight, and if you take in less, you'll lose. Our program creates a personalized eating plan based on what you like to eat, and you can eat your prescribed foods anytime of the day.

That said, keep in mind that nighttime eating does tend to be centered on sedentary activities, often taking the form of mindless munching in front of the television. And calories consumed during the evening tend to be extra calories.

Myth: You can eat all the fat-free foods you like without gaining weight.
Fact: Fat-free foods are not calorie-free foods, so they do count as part of your day's calorie allotment. When fat-free foods were first introduced, many people forgot about controlling portion size and ate as much of these foods as they wanted -- then wondered why they weren't losing weight! Read the labels and check the listed portion size to determine how fat-free foods can fit into your eating plan. We recommend a variety of fat-free and low-fat foods on the WLC individualized eating plans to help members enjoy a greater quantity of foods.

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